Sunday, May 18, 2008

Cooling off in Nainital

28th - 30th April 2008

After the heat of the plains, a trip to Nainital felt all the more satisfying. Richa was to conduct a workshop on NREGA for the Mahila Samakhya Resource persons and Sahyoginis, the field-level organizers who are responsble for 10 villages each. MS's primary focus has been Violence against Women, but in some instances they have gone beyond that, campaigning for health services, education, ban on liquor etc. Yet, taking up the issue of NREGA would mean a completely different style of work. From what I could see, MS employees saw their role as educators, imparting information about job cards, benefits of NREGA, minimum wage laws etc. This is very different from the campaign style of work adopted by SKMS. However, the implementation of NREGA has just started in Nainital dt. and one can hope that things progress in a better manner there...

The situation in Uttarakhand is quite different from UP. There is large-scale migration (palaayan) to Lucknow, Delhi and other cities among young males. Those men still living in the hills can earn more than the minimum wage, whether it be through daily wage labour or more regular employment. Therefore, NREGA is currently more attractive to women who typically earn about Rs. 50/day compared to the NREGA wage of Rs. 73. However, Richa challenged the group to think about the difference Rs.7300 would make to a family. Would it bring home the youth slaving away in hotels in big cities? Would the influx of money allow Panchayats to plan new projects and improve their villages?

In another session, Richa asked the women to look ahead and think about what they would do if the administration was slow in implementing various phases of the Act. What if the minimum wage was not paid? While Uttarakhand does have a better record on poverty, oppression and caste-based discrimination, it is not free of them. Further, due to the entrenched corruption in the Forest departments and Natural Resource Management, there are some powerful vested interests to contend with. We showed the group some video of the SKMS dharna that I had been editing – who know, maybe they will need to protest in a similar manner here as well.

On the last day of the workshop, there was plenty of song and dance. I had forgotten to bring my voice recorder along and never regretted it more! But I did manage to learn a few songs and will hopefully get a chance to record them some time in the future.

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